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WP: The App Gap, Is It A Real Problem?


Time and time again you'll see reviews of a Windows Phone that laud its hardware, software and the way it works. As you read through the review you'll probably get to a point where you say to yourself "this could be my next phone".

Then you'll reach the app discussion. The Windows Phone Store only has a few hundred thousand apps compared to the iTunes Store and Play Store which have millions each. And then you decide there's no way this could be your next phone after all.

Microsoft has been at pains to push the way that the App Gap is closing. Watch any Windows Phone advert and you'll see lot's of name checks for the popular apps of the moment. In fact you can use a Windows Phone advert as a barometer of what was popular on the iPhone/Android stores in the three to six month period before the advert was shot just by looking to see which apps get name checked.

The truth is very different. For most users the presence of Angry Birds or Whats App or Instagram isn't a huge factor in the choice of their phone. The Windows Phone Store has a pretty good selection of games, messaging apps and photo editors to make that a non-issue. For those app developers with a decided aversion to Windows Phone there are always third party apps that can do the job as well as, or in most cases, better than the official ones on other platforms.

Unfortunately for Microsoft the app gap is not thousands of apps, its just one. Each user.

For every potential Windows Phone buyer it's the one application that they need that just isn't available on the platform. For some users it will be a banking app, others home shopping and for some maybe an airline's own application. There are too many of these apps that are used by small groups of users to ever make it possible to cover every one. Especially as the pool of apps will vary from country to country. Most won't support a third party app and every one is a potential show stopper for that Windows Phone purchase.

Fixing this issue is going to be incredibly difficult for Microsoft. It's going to need to woo developers on an epic scale. Free development software and devices, online and face to face training courses, dedicated developer support hotlines. It will be expensive to do, will take time and has no guarantee of success. The merger of RT and WP will ease this only slightly.

The good news for Microsoft is that for those users new to a smartphone the app gap doesn't exist. If it can keep making gains in that entry level market, in new markets and then build some brand loyalty it still drive market share up. But it will continue to be a slow growth.

In its favour, after using Windows Phone moving over to Android and especially an iPhone feels like a hugely retrograde step. That may be a strength that Microsoft needs to play to heavily in the next few months.

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